APPENDIX G - RADIO CALL SIGNS OF THE RCN

This document lists most of the call signs assigned to ships of the RCN past and present.

General

With the exception of a few amateur stations, the "ether" was occupied by ship and coastal stations from 1900 until the 1920's. Ship and coastal stations used two letter call signs  from 1900 until the end of 1907, then three letter call signs started on January 1, 1908. Four letter call sign began to appear about 1923.

INT C/S is the international call sign or (signal letters as they were known in the navy) assigned to Canada by the International Telecommunication Union from blocks of call signs allocated to Canada.

 The "Voice Call Sign" used between warships only. Not just between Canadian warships, but when working with any warship from any other nation.

Collective Call Signs

The collective call sign was created during the 1920's. The collective call sign made it possible to contact all the ships within a fleet or to contact a ship within a fleet. The RCN did not use a collective call sign until after World War II when the CGNS call sign of HMCS REVELSTOKE was changed to CZCM. The CGNS call sign became the RCN collective call sign as an easy means of remembering the call sign; Canadian Government Naval Ship. The CGNS call sign was the one used more than the other Canadian collective signs. If one had a message for all ships within a fleet they simply broadcast the message under that fleets collective call sign. If a ship wanted to contact any ship within a fleet they simply called that fleets collective call sign and a ship within that fleet should have answered that ships call. In other words, CGNS was the same as saying "All Ships of the Royal Canadian Navy" or "Any Ship of the Royal Canadian Navy" depending on how it was used. Halifax Radio CFH and Vancouver Radio CKN made a lot of their broadcasts with the CGNS call sign meaning "All Ships of the Royal Canadian Navy".

If a ship with call sign ABCD wanted to contact a Canadian Naval Ship for any reason he could do so by simply transmitting CGNS de ABCD on the calling frequency. Any Canadian Naval Ship should have answered his call. There were a great many collective call signs in use during the "heyday" of CW. One could hear them in the traffic lists of many coast stations. The coast station transmitting the collective call sign would transmit the message on termination of the traffic list or at a scheduled time. One could hear ships calling the collective call sign of a fleet or company on the calling frequencies. The ship calling wanted help or information from a ship within that fleet. It could be a sister ship within his own fleet or any one of many possibilities. The companies that handled the radio accounts in merchant ships had collective call signs and one could hear one of those calls often.

WWII Collective Call Signs

Ships:

Ships and Auxiliary Vessels Operating from St. John's, Newfoundland .. CGKZ
Ships and Auxiliary Vessels Operating from Sydney, Nova Scotia .. CGKX
Ships and Auxiliary Vessels Operating from Saint John, New Brunswick .. CGWV
Ships and Auxiliary Vessels Operating from Shelburne, Nova Scotia .. CGWX
Ships and Auxiliary Vessels Operating from Gaspe, Quebec .. CGWY
Ships and Auxiliary Vessels Operating from Quebec, Quebec .. CGWZ
All Auxiliary Vessels West Coast .. CGKT
All Fishermen's Reserve Vessels, West Coast .. CGKV
W/T Guard Ship, St. John's, Newfoundland .. CGKY

Officers, Establishments and Escorts.

N.S.H.Q. Ottawa .. CYTF
C.O.A.C. Halifax .. CYTG
F.O.N.F. St. John's, Newfoundland .. CYTJ
Capt. "D" St. John's, Newfoundland .. CYTK
Capt. "D" Halifax, Nova Scotia .. CYTL

S.O. Nfld. Escort Force.................................CYTM
S.O. of Escort Group No. 14 (N.E.F.)..........CYTN
             Escort Group No. 14 (N.E.F.)..........CYTP
S.O. of Escort Group No. 15 (N.E.F.)..........CYTQ
             Escort Group No. 15 (N.E.F.)..........CYTR
S.O. of Escort Group No. 16 (N.E.F.)..........CYTS
             Escort Group No. 16 (N.E.F.)..........CYTV
S.O. of Escort Group No. 17 (N.E.F.)..........CYTW
             Escort Group No. 17 (N.E.F.)..........CYTX
S.O. of Escort Group No. 18 (N.E.F.)..........CYTZ
             Escort Group No. 18 (N.E.F.)..........CYVB
S.O. of Escort Group No. 19 (N.E.F.)..........CYVD
             Escort Group No. 19 (N.E.F.)..........CYVF
S.O. of Escort Group No. 20 (N.E.F.)..........CYVG
             Escort Group No. 20 (N.E.F.)..........CYVJ
S.O. of Escort Group No. 21 (N.E.F.)..........CYVK
             Escort Group No. 21 (N.E.F.)..........CYVL
S.O. of Escort Group No. 22 (N.E.F.)..........CYVM
             Escort Group No. 22 (N.E.F.)..........CYVN
S.O. of Escort Group No. 23 (N.E.F.)..........CYVP
             Escort Group No. 23 (N.E.F.)..........CYVQ
S.O. of Escort Group No. 24 (N.E.F.)..........CYVR
             Escort Group No. 24 (N.E.F.)..........CYVS
S.O. of Escort Group No. 25 (N.E.F.)..........CYVT
             Escort Group No. 25 (N.E.F.)..........CYVW

Spud Roscoe, VE1BC,  provides additional information about collective call signs.

" he collective call sign became popular back in the late 1920’s. For example KRMC meant any ship radio station operated by RCA Communications Inc. This meant that any station that wanted to send a message to all ships fitted with RCA stations, listed this call sign on their traffic lists and then would broadcast the message at either scheduled times or right after their traffic list. It also meant that anyone who wanted to contact one of these stations could do so simply by calling that call sign on a calling frequency. Canada assigned certain call signs for this purpose. The first Canadian Collective Call Signs appeared in the first International Telecommunication Union List of Ship Radio Stations in the early 1930’s.

The Canadian Collective Call Signs:
 CGCG Any or all Canadian Coast Guard Ships
 CGMP Any or all Royal Canadian Mounted Police Ships
 CGNS Any or all Royal Canadian Navy Ships
 CYSR   Any or all Royal Canadian Air Force Marine Craft during World War II
 VCMS Any ship station operated by Canadian Marconi Company
 VCPR Any ship station of Canadian Pacific Railway
 VCQP Gulf of St. Lawrence Ice Patrol Vessel
               (VCQP was the only Canadian Collective Call Sign listed during World War II)
 VCSS Any ship owned by Imperial Oil Limited
 VDDD Any Canadian Merchant Vessel
 VGGG All Canadian Merchant Vessels
 VXMC Any or all Royal Canadian Air Force Marine Craft after World War II

These Canadian collective call signs did not work very well because they made too much sense. The Navy used their CGNS call sign continuously. The Coast Guard CGCG call sign was a complete waste of time. I do not believe the CGMP call sign was ever used unless it was on their radio circuits. VCMS, VCPR, and VCSS may have been used just before and just after World War II.

The CYSR and VXMC collective call signs did not appear in the International Telecommunication Union Publications. The Air Force Marine Craft were in the International Telecommunication Union Publications for a short time after World War II only. The CYSR and VXMC collective call signs may have been used on their radio circuits. I had no knowledge of the VXMC call sign until a few years after I retired and found it listed in a 1946 listing. I was not aware of the CYSR call sign until July, 2010, when I found it in some World War II government orders. This was 15 years after I retired and had been doing the research on this subject. There were a number of call signs used during the war to indicate some office or official of some description.

I heard several foreign ships call the VCQP call sign when they wanted ice information but each time one of the Canadian Coast Stations provided the service. I did not hear a ship use this VCQP call sign as though it were assigned to an ice patrol ship.

The big advantage of these collective call signs was in contacting a ship within one of these fleets. For example if you wanted to contact a Mounted Police vessel for any reason all you had to do was call CGMP on the general calling frequency of 500 kHz. One of their ships should have answered you and either handled your communications or put you in contact with the proper ship or radio station. The British had a number of these collective call signs and like so many other nations used them regularly. The last time I heard the VDDD call a German ship sent it on 500 kHz. At the time I was in a British ship but since it was more Canadian than British decided to answer if another ship did not. Dave Vail, Radio Officer in the ferry BLUENOSE with call sign VDND heard him and answered; a Canadian operator sailing in a German ship who wanted a little chat with someone from home.
While working at Halifax Coast Guard Radio VCS I set up a general call to all Canadian Ships with the VGGG call sign. When I went back on duty someone had changed it to a general call of all ships using the CQ call sign. When I inquired about the change I was told the VGGG call was too lengthy. I feel confident some foreign operator who spoke no English appreciated that. His or her captain probably wanted to know what in hell they were doing wasting their time copying something not addressed to them. The collective calls made a lot of sense but they had to be used correctly".

Call Sign Assignments

Some of the World War II Canadian naval ships that recommissioned in the post war period had their call sign changed for some unknown reason. Yet others retained their original call sign assigned during World War II until they were scrapped after serving for over twenty years. Some fomer RN ships retained their British call signs when they were in service with the RCN.

Some of the call signs of ships that were lost during the war were reassigned as soon as possible. The CGBN and CYRF call signs are two examples. When HMCS Ypres was lost her CGBN call sign was reassigned to HMC ML094. The CGBN call sign has been the call sign of the heavy icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent since she entered service in 1967. When HMCS Charlottetown was lost her CYRF call sign was reassigned to HMCS Swansea. Swansea was assigned the CYRF call sign until she paid off last on October 14th, 1966.

Pendant vs Pennant

Sometimes there is confusion between the words "Pendant" and  "Pennant". This extract  from Chapter Six of a forthcoming book by David J Freeman, "RCN Ship Badges & Insignia, 1910 to 1946" should set the record straight. [used with permission of the author.]

"The term pendant - pronounced pennant – is simply a tapering flag, just like a pennant.   In the world of naval communications, however, there were differences. The RN signal system contained not only alphabetical and special flags, but also “numeral flags” , "pennants" and “numbered pendants.”  The latter were a series of tapered pennants: ten were numbers (0 to 9) and 12 others had special meanings. These were the flags flown by a warship to indicate her assigned number. Early in 1914, just before the start of the First World War, British destroyers were ordered to paint their pendant numbers on their hulls.  Prior to this, these signal pendants were hard to see through the smoke and spray.  The word ‘pendant’ followed the numbers down to the ship’s side."

Don Wagner, CTRC USN (Ret'd) explains the difference between flags and pennants. "Flags are nearly square or rectangular while a pennant is tapered to a point ( i.e. Emergency Pennant or command pennants). Sometimes, the very tip of the point is chopped off square (i.e. Corpen pennant). Merchant ships do not use number flags like those carried aboard Allied naval ships (0 - 9). Naval vessels carry both numeral "flags and pennants" so they are able to communicated with merchantmen. The numeral flags have no resemblance to numeral pennants  (colors and patterns are completely different).

In the convoys of WWII where only merchantmen were communicating with each other, the visual signals used for communication came from Hydrographic Office publications and in this case it would be HO-87. Where it was strictly Allied naval operations (where no civilian merchantmen were involved) visual and radiotelephone signals came from the Allied Tactical Publications (ATPs). If I remember the number correctly, ACP-175 which I think was carried in radio offices as well as on the  signal bridges of vessels".

Common Acronyms

ACP - Allied Communications Publication(s)
ANSB - Allied Naval Signal Book
ATP - Allied Tactical Publication(s)
JANAP - Joint Army Navy Air Force Publication(s)

Other Call Signs

There were other call signs that were used by many ships. These were known as the NATO Basic Call Signs and were always encoded whenever they were used. This made it more difficult for the Russians to determine out who was in the fleet during the Cold War. Encoding was necessary whenever there were major NATO exercises as the Allied fleet was constantly shadowed by Russian ELINT (Electronic Intelligence Gathering) ships disguised as fishing trawlers. Call signs for HMC ships were published in JANAP 119. Today this publication is known as ACP 176.

The Halifax Class Patrol Frigates were initially assigned calls in the format CHAx, however, this had to be changed to a CGAx format when it was discovered that there were duplications in call signs.

Examination Vessels

During WWII,  all major Canadian harbours had a vessel stationed in the harbour entrance. Their purpose was to board each and every ship that approached the harbour entrance and verify credentials.

The following vessels (with their call signs) officially bore the title of an "Examination Vessel" :

CGDB         ANDREE DUPRE
CGPX         ADVERSUS
CGPS          CHALEUR
CGPL          FLEUR DE LIS
CGSR          FRENCH
CGFM         MALASPINA
CGDR         MACSIN
CGLX         MONT JOLI
CGSF         MURRAY STEWARD

These were small vessels rounded up at the outbreak of the war specifically for this purpose. Several were from the Marine Section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Bxxx Callsigns

There is an something worth noting about callsign prefixes. At the London Radio Conference of 1912, Great Britain was assigned the entire 'B' callsign block BAA to BZZ. During WWII, some Canadian ships under Royal Navy command were assigned Bxxx callsigns. These Bxxx call signs can frequently be seen in the listings below.  The call block BAA-BZZ was assigned to China in 1947 as part of a re-organization of the international series of call signs discussed and agreed during the International Radio Conference in Atlantic City in 1947.

SHIP LISTINGS WITH CALL SIGNS AND PENNANTS

 
 
A - B
C
D - E
F - G
H
I - J - K - L
M - N - O
 P - Q - R
Sa to Sp
Sr to Sz
 T-U
V - W - X - Y - Z

Many of the call signs from the WWII era came from:

1) BR619 Pendant lists 1942. Part II, Decode, Section B, Harbour (i), Ships, Establishments and Signal Stations, at home and abroad, table B. Amended from 1 Feb 1943 to 14 Dec 1944. Admiralty Library, Portsmouth, call no Ec 181/ix Photo Copied in part 21 Sep 2004.

2) Department of National Defence, Naval Service Headquarters, 30th, January, 1943  (and also May 1944) Canadian Confidential Naval Orders 125 - 127.

Many thanks are extended to Spud Roscoe of Halifax, Nova Scotia who provided a significant amount of material in order to compile this list plus his assistance in proof reading. Every effort has been made to get this listing as accurate as possible but there could be errors in the source material. Any missing information or corrections are most welcomed.

TYPES OF SHIPS


PENDANT PREFIX
DESCRIPTION
AG  General Purpose Auxiliary Vessel
AGH Hydrographic Survey Vessel
AGOR  Oceanographic ship for short. Stands for Atlantic Group Oceanographic Research.
AGS Survey Ship - A ship 40 metres or more which is employed to conduct hydrographic surveys and limited oceanographic surveys.
AGSC Survey Ship, Coastal  - A ship employed in the same function as an AGS but only in coastal waters.
AKS Stores Ship - A  ship 40 metres or more used to provide supplies and services.
ALC Corvette 
AN Net laying ship
ANL Cable/Net Laying Ship - auxiliary equipped for cable or net laying.
AOR Replenishment oiler
AOC Coastal Oiler 
AOTL Small Oiler, Transport
ARE Auxiliary escort repair ship 
ASL Small Submarine Tender
ATA Tug (sea going) 
AW Arctic patrol (icebreaker) 
BCCPS Bay Class Coastal Patrol Ship
CCL Light cruiser 
CLB Cruiser
CMC ???
CVL Light fleet carrier
DD  Destroyer.  A ship capable of high speed operations at sea against surface ships, submarines and aircraft. 
DE  Ocean Escort. A ship capable of medium speed operations at sea in defence of convoys. In 1963, all FFE's became DE's.
DDE Destroyer Escort. - A ship capable of high/medium
speed in offensive operations at sea against submarines and capable of limited self defence against aircraft and surface craft.
DDG Guided-missile Destroyer.
DDH Destroyer Escort with helicopter
DDR Radar Picket Destroyer
FFE Prestonian Class A/S Frigate 
FFH Halifax Class Patrol Frigate 
FHE Fast Hydrofoil Escort
FSE Coastal escort 
HSL High Speed Launch
MCA Auxiliary coastal minesweeper 
MCB  Minesweeper Coastal Bay (class)
MCDV Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel
MSA Mine Countermeasures Auxiliary Vessel
NPC Controlled minelayer
PB Patrol Boat
PC  Coastal Escort - a ship capable of medium speed operations in coastal waters in anti-submarine patrols and escort of convoys.
PCS A/S patrol craft (sub chaser).
PCT Patrol Craft Training Vessels -  Orca Class
PFL Patrol Escort (Small). Assigned to Bay class 
PRE Rescue launch
QW Sailing yacht
RML Aircraft carrier
RRSM Fleet carrier, light
SS Submarine
YAC Yacht
YAG Yard Auxiliary General vessel  [3]
YDT Diving Tender
YFL Launch
YMG Gate vessel. Gate vessels were YMG's but ended their careers as a YNG's.
YMT Diving tender
YNG Gate Vessel
YPT Torpedo Retriever
YTB Harbour tug, large
YTL Harbour tug, small
YTM Harbour tug
YTR Fire/Rescue Boat, Small

 Other References:

 
1) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
2) Some descriptions referenced via STANAG 1166,  Standard Ship Designator System.
3) Naval General Order 2.06, promulgated under PS No. Gen 39/63
4) YAG was the eventual designation for the 75 ft wooden passenger ferries built during the Second World War and originally
     called harbour craft, e.g. HC  326.  After the war they were re-designated as yard craft, YC.  Then they all received other
     designations depending on function: YFB, YBL, YFL and then YAG.
5) Dave Freeman <djfreeman(at)shaw.ca>
6) Don Wagner, CTRC USN (Ret'd)  <navwags(at)earthlink.net>
7) Ray White <legerwhite(at)rogers.com>
8) ITU Library and Archives.


Back to Table of Contents

MAr 2/ 20